Aside from the challenges and opportunities posed by the potential end of the investment tax credit in the US, a few trends emerged from across the Solar Power International conference and exhibition held last week in Las Vegas.
First off, community solar is big and getting bigger in the US. Also known as solar gardens, community solar allows residents, businesses and government customers to purchase solar energy produced from somewhere other than on their own rooftops. It enables people who are unable to install solar to still benefit from clean energy. Since 2010 when the state of Colorado passed the first Community Garden solar law, several states, cities and utilities are using that legislation as a model. In June of this year, Colorado-based SunShare sold out a large privately developed and subscribed Community Solar installation—even before construction had started. Recently SunShare signed a contract to develop a community solar project that will power a water park in Colorado. The company has also recently opened an office in Minnesota, where a community solar law was passed last year. Unlike other markets, Minnesota has no capacity limit, which SunShare’s Senior Vice President, Jonathan Postal, said will “impact the business environment because it will enable solar that would not have been done otherwise.”
The US Department of Energy announced that Clean Energy Collective, a specialist in community solar, will receive a $700,000 SunShot cooperative award to develop and implement a National Community Solar Platform. Undoubtedly we will hear more about community solar as it is embraced by more states and municipalities around the world.
Energy storage has not been so much of a trend as it has been a technology (or handful of technologies) in need of useful solutions. At SPI last week we started to see some exciting movement in this direction. GS Battery, with manufacturing facilities in Roswell, Georgia, was showing a storage system housed in a weather-proof enclosure. Not only did the enclosure contain batteries, inverter, charge controller and cooling system, but hanging off the side is a car charger. If foot traffic to a booth is any indication of a hot solution, GS Battery just may have a winner.
Enphase Energy announced its Enphase AC Battery, an energy storage solution with a modular, plug and play storage device integrated into a management system. A bi-directional power converter enables the connection to an AC battery. The battery is lithium iron phosphate, which Ameet Konkar, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, said was chosen for its safety and performance. “We want it safe,” he said, “Because, after all, it goes in someone’s garage.” Expect to see an off-grid solution from Enphase in 2016.
Outback Power was showing its grid/hybrid energy solutions that include Radian inverters and batteries that use absorbent glass mat (AGM) technology with valve-release lead-acid (VRLA) design.
With these and other energy storage solutions on display at SPI, clearly it will become commonplace to have a grid-connected/battery backed storage solution in the near future.
Trade wars and ITC extension
Yes, trade wars and the ITC extension are still the big issues for the US solar industry. Scott Wiater, President of Standard Solar, pointed out that the cost of solar panels has “fictionally gone up because of the trade wars.” He noted that the industry didn’t start the trade war with China, “but we’re getting killed for it.” He believes that the solar industry has been doing a great job and deserves an extension to the ITC. This sentiment was echoed in the CEO panel, especially by Lyndon Rive, co-founder and CEO of SolarCity, who called for the solar industry to join together to help SEIA lobby for the extension. Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar pointed out that there are 6000 companies in the US solar industry, yet only about 1000 belong to SEIA. He said that, unfortunately, “If the ITC goes away, it’s the little guys who get hurt,” and like Rive, he hopes that the everyone in the US solar industry sees the value in SEIA’s outreach effort. In the words of Senator Harry Reid “We can’t slow down, we must become more vigilant. Make sure you understand who your friends are.”
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today